He is charismatic and charming, always smiling, generous and friendly. At home he might be evil incarnate, ruling with his own sense of entitlement, generating fear and destroying the people who he so publicly loves.
Of course I'm talking about domestic violence. The government of New South Wales recently declared a new name for the phenomenon, a name which is not gaining a strong hold as yet but hopefully will: "intimate abuse". I like this name "intimate abuse", it is a little more pointed about the fact that it is the people who we trust who perpetrate this crime and by removing the word violence it might help to clarify the fact that physical violence is often the least damaging aspect of the situation.
Intimate abuse is much, much more than a slap, a punch or even a number of kicks. Intimate abuse is name calling, it is financial control, it is sexual abuse, it is isolation. It is when a late paid bill becomes a hanging offence, when even a glance can inspire gut churning fear. It is feeling like a blow-up doll or a slave or worst of all, like just nothing. Intimate abuse is when the victim is not allowed to travel freely, maybe her contact with friends and family is limited and controlled, she might not be allowed to read or use the phone, her emails are checked, phones examined and milages noted. It is when a broken down car is her fault, the children sick because of her poor mothering and lovingly prepared food declared inadequate. Intimate abuse involves pain, control and humiliation.
The victim becomes uncertain of her own judgement and her uncertainty allows the cycle to continue, sucking her deeper into isolation and losing confidence.
I talk about intimate abuse as something perpetrated on women by men and that is the most common pattern but it is much broader than that. Intimate abuse is perpetrated in homosexual relationships, by women on men, by children on parents and parents on children. Intimate abuse exists where ever there is a relationship of trust that is breached by a bid for power. There is not a typical abuser or a typical victim. Any one of us can become involved as situations ebb and flow and as power balances shift. All of us will experience intimate abuse or know someone who does.
The first question often asked by a bystander is "why doesn't she just leave?" and the reasons for a victim staying in an abusive relationship are many and varied but let me assure you that she will have evaluated the possibilities, she continually evaluates her situation and deals with it as best she can. The judgement of another is never helpful, the victim alone understands her position and your job as a friend is to support her decisions. Strengthen her, she doesn't need more doubt. If you have a relationship with the abuser, maintain it. Isolating him will only backfire on her. Treat each individual with the utmost discretion, the normal flow of information between partners is not normal in an abusive relationship and the tiniest snippet of the most innocent conversation can and will be used to extend a reign of terror.
Last of all, if you are the victim, look for ways to take your power back. Look for the ways that you feel confident of. There is plenty of information, support and counselling available for victims of abuse and much of this support is invaluable but there is also a tendency to say that the only escape is to leave, there is a tendency to judge the victim who doesn't take that option but sometimes it is possible to redress the balance. What ever your choice, don't be further abused by well meant but inappropriate advice. Only listen to the people who support you all the way.
YOU have the knowledge, YOU understand and YOU can choose to reclaim YOUR power, YOUR way.